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Three years after rebranding and repositioning as a international business communications consultancy, Instinctif Partners is effectively unrecognisable from the firm once known as College Hill. That is probably for the best, because Instinctif today is a multi-specialist consultancy with significant depth in capital markets, corporate and public policy, bolstered by considerable breadth across content, creative, research and insights. And much of the firm's work involves multiple practice areas, reflecting an interconnected approach that now accounts for 29% of its revenue, up from 19% in 2015.
Aiding that approach are internal initiatives which celebrate collaboration, part of a substantial cultural effort which saw the firm's 386 employees co-create a new set of values. Staff retention and client retention have both improved considerably, and these days Instinctif looks like an agency that takes its internal outcomes as seriously as its external results.
Those results remain in very good shape, with revenues up slightly to £34m, with the UK driving much of the firm's global growth, which included an 18% uptick in Continental Europe. Unsurprisingly, given its own positioning, Instinctif has carved out a credible niche working for challenger brands, including Purple Bricks, World First, Secret Sales, graze.com and Made.com. There was also new business last year from Majestic Wines, Biffa, UK Power Networks, Redrow, University of Portsmouth, Shepherd Neame and Eve Mattresses, joining an existing roster that already features eBay, Jupiter Asset Management, AGCO, Thomson Reuters, Aviva and Cushman and Wakefield.
Meanwhile, the best of the firm's work demonstrates its approach to disrupting the traditional corporate PR template. For its largest client eBay, that involves re-engaging the company's global community around a new global mission. For Aviva, that means work to establish its brand with multiple customer demographics And for graze, made.com, Purple Bricks and Eve Mattresses, that featured a range of communications strategies that improved the bottomline. — AS
Farner, celebrating its 65th year in 2016, has been the Swiss market leader in corporate and public affairs for as long as anyone can remember, offering clients expertise in campaign management for business and politics, crisis and issues management, and financial communications, working with clients across the financial services, pharmaceutical, energy, technology and public health sectors. But in recent years its dramatic growth has been fueled by diversification: Farner can now offer fully integrated campaigns including content creation, community management, real-time marketing and video storytelling.
The firm’s integrated capabilities were further strengthened in 2016 with the acquisition of brand marketing specialist YJOO, Switzerland’s third largest PR firm, which brought with it clients such as Coop, McDonald’s, Nespresso, SBB, IWC, the Federal Office for Public Health, and OpenAir St Gallen as well as senior executives Martin Zahner (YJOOs’ founder, who serves as vice chairman) and Nina Krucker, who now serves as head of brand communication. That deal contributed to another year of spectacular growth: fee income was up by more than 30% to around $24 million, and headcount has increased from 60 to 140 in the past four years.
The firm has expanded its international client portfolio with Roche, Johnsen & Johnsen, Philipp Morris, Trafigura, Swisscom, McDonald’s, Nespresso, IWC and Coop, while the firm continues to work with Swiss clients including Schweizerische Mobiliar, swisselectric, Swissport, as well as numerous regional and governmental agencies. New clients in 2016 included TGV Lyria, TCS, Janssen-Cilag, KSB, Coca-Cola Beverages and Johnson & Johnson. Interesting work included creating an online community for diabetes patients on behalf of Roche, developing an integrated road safety campaign for Touring Club de Suisse, supporting high-profile neuroscience conference The Brain Forum, launching a CSR initiative for insurance provider Schweizerische Mobiliar, and launching its own IssueManager, a web-based application for automated issue monitoring.— PH
Portland Communications (UK/Omnicom)
Typically viewed as one of the UK's defining public affairs firms, Portland has broadened its capabilities considerably to cover the full range of corporate communications in recent years, with the moves paying off to such an extent that it has grown remarkably over the past three years, to around £29m in global fee income after another healthy double-digit upturn in 2016.
These days, furthermore, Portland's growth comes from a variety of sources rather than just its lobbying skills, including C-suite corporate advice to such companies as Barclays, Nestle, Pfizer, Apple, McDonald’s, Diageo, Uber, AkzoNobel, O2 and Motorola. The firm is also increasingly international, with offices in the Middle East, Africa, the US and, most recently, Singapore, adding up to 210 staffers across the globe. Around 180 of those are based at Portland's London office (the only Omnicom operation to defiantly maintain its own premises) and much of last year's growth came from existing clients such as Pfizer, Barclays and Heathrow — with Portland making particular inroads beyond its corporate base into such areas as content and digital.
Much of the firm's work, meanwhile, has genuinely moved the needle for its clients, reflecting its view that reputation management requires an integration of public affairs and corporate comms, in recognition of how regulatory debate and scrutiny has moved beyond Westminster onto the High Street. Founder Tim Allan oversees a deep leadership team that includes former Sun political editor George Pascoe-Watson; ex-Downing Street advisor Steve Morris; and Tony Blair's former communications director Alastair Campbell. Allan likes to say that public relations is a "British success story". His own firm continues to provide plenty of evidence of that. — AS
Salt is among the few PR firms to identify as a B Corporation — an accreditation for companies committed to transforming society for good through business. Salt does this, in part, through its ‘social missions’ concept focused on how companies can drive business growth through social impact.
Salt also works on brand storytelling through digital influencers; creating thought leadership platforms; and engaging employees and building employer brands. It deploys this thinking for clients like Unilever, ManpowerGroup, Givaudan, Lifebuoy, Andrex, William Grant & Sons, Lipton, Kleenex (new), Axe/Lynx (new), Roche (new), Maersk (new), Ferrero (new) and Monkey Shoulder (new). Standout work includes the mobile-led #BeAMaker work for Lipton’s Unilever to showcase that 100% of its tea bags are Rainforest Alliance certified and to drive preference among Millennials. The work delivered 91% viewability (against an industry standard of 66%) and an engagement rate of 28%.
Growth remained steady at £4.2m with 45 employees. The management team includes Nicky Young, group MD; Marianne Blamire, MD of Singapore; Caroline Taylor, consumer division director; alongside co-founders Richard Cox and Andy Last who started the firm in 2000. — AaS
Seven Hills (UK/Independent)
Michael Hayman and Nick Giles have always cut a slightly different figure to their market peers since they launched Seven Hills in 2009, along the way becoming a perennial presence on this list and winning Global Agency of the Year honours in 2014. The duo have been avid creators of content, developing an events and campaign mentality that has seen them develop their intellectual property in a bid to showcase their thought leadership and connectivity credentials to clients. It is an approach that has paid off handsomely, with Seven Hills growing 7% in 2016 to £4.2m. Best known for its focus on the entrepreneurial economy, Seven Hills has honed its positioning to focus on ‘change makers and future industries’, effectively representing a bet on whether traditional business will be disrupted by companies that are on a mission.
Clearly, Hayman and Giles believe it will be, hence last year’s publication of its own book "Mission: How the best in business break through”, along with founding organisations such as StartUp Britain, the MADE Festival and Pitch at the Palace. A clear focus on the London’s emerging tech scene has served Seven Hills well, including such names as Level 39, Tech Advocates, Rocketspace, Leapfrog and numerous unicorns. There is also weighty CEO counsel for the likes of Ella’s Kitchen, Brewdog and Cobra, along with more traditional work for such events as Adweek Europe and One Young World — but all of it demonstrates a clear strategy to bring key disruptive players together in order to build communities around strong ideas.
And Seven Hills brings a similarly disruptive mindset to its own service model, often focusing on sprint goals over 30, 60 and 90 days, and projects rather than retainers. There has been some standout work for Grant Thornton and Mischon de Reya, further solidifying the notion that Seven Hills has identified something unique in its corporate positioning. — AS
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